The Penguins' pre-game promotion of career enforcer Tom Sestito from the AHL ranks Wednesday was about as transparent as could be, considering their opponent, the Jets, were intent on settling unfinished business from a chippy meeting earlier in the season.
"I thought maybe it was for goal-scoring that they wanted me up here," Sestito himself quipped, tongue-in-cheek, before the game — his first in the NHL since November.
Sure enough, Sestito racked up 20 penalty minutes in 1:02 time on ice. He dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn barely 3 minutes into the game, then, later in the first period, was ejected after his hit from behind on Jets defenseman Toby Enstrom, who was hospitalized.
On Thursday, the NHL's Department of Player Safety dolled out a four-game suspension for Sestito.
In its explanation, the league defined the hit as boarding and concluded Sestito had sufficient time to avoid the hit or lessen its impact. It's his first suspension since 2011, largely because he's played only 137 NHL games since then. Sestito's rap sheet played a factor in the punishment, the league said, as did Enstrom's injury.
Enstrom's outlook remained tenuous Thursday night. His face was still swollen from hitting the boards, making it impossible to distinguish broken bones. He's out indefinitely.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan defended Sestito and his decision to make the call-up before the game. His star center, Evgeni Malkin, escaped NHL discipline earlier in the season for what was deemed a dirty hit on Jets forward Blake Wheeler, a source of the bad blood that lingered between the clubs.
“I know Tommy’s intent isn’t to injure,” Sullivan said. “He plays the game hard and he brings a physical element to our team when he's in our lineup. I know his intent is just to try to play the game hard.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice had a different perspective.
"He wasn't wearing any equipment," he said of Sullivan, via the Winnipeg Sun. "There's no cost to them for doing it. We lost a good defenseman for a while."
Asked about Sestito's purpose in the game, Maurice put it bluntly.
"He wasn't called up to dangle," he said.